Spinal health is important as it is the pathway where the central nervous system sends and receives information through. When your spine is functioning optimally your overall wellness benefits from it.
A healthy spine should be structurally balanced in such a way that supports you throughout the day without aches and pains. You should be able move with ease, sit and sleep comfortably, and lift reasonable amount of weights when necessary. How healthy your spine depends on the habitual postures you get into throughout the day, as well as the presence/absence of an injury, and your physical activity level.
Besides from the vertebrates that make up the bony structure of our spine, a healthy spine is supported by a well-balanced muscular structure. This means that the muscles around the spine are flexible and strong enough to respond your choice of movement. When you think about balancing a structure you need to think flexibility, strength, mobility, and stability together. Both Pilates and Yoga have many exercises that can help you with finding balance.
If you don’t have an injury you can develop the habit of gently moving your spine in five directions that I indicate below. Practice these twice a day each day to check in with its status, and to be able to identify imbalances. Once you identify the imbalances you can then seek for exercises that help balance your spine. These exercises can also help energize you when you feel lethargic.
- Axial Extension(Shown on the image top left): Reaching upward to lengthen the torso with arms lifted while integrating natural curves of the spine. Reach opposite directions from the two ends of your spine. Think of downward facing dog, or urdva hastasana-upward salute poses from yoga.
- Flexion/Forward Fold: Bringing your torso towards your legs and allowing your middleback to round. Think of child’s pose, or standing forward fold with the knees slightly bent or cat pose.
- Extension/Back Bend: Bending your spine backwards and creating an arch position. Cobra or cow pose.
- Rotation: From seated or standing position rotate your torso the the side and back while keeping the hip bones stable.
- Lateral Flexion/Side Bend: From seated or standing position first lit your arms up and lengthen then reach sideways with the arms and torso while resisting with the hip bones downwards to create traction.
All of these movements should be practiced gently avoiding strain. In the beginning of each posture lift up your torso away from your pelvis to lengthen the spine, then move towards the indicated directions. Practice mindfully. Move slowly and curiously to receive information from your body. The more you understand about your system the better you can support it.